Cocoa bean quality has improved during Ivory Coast’s recently opened 2012/13 cocoa season due to stricter standards introduced under a reform of the sector, the head of the top grower’s marketing board said on Friday.
Under the reform measures put in place at the start of the season on October 3, the Coffee and Cocoa Council fixed the maximum allowable mould level at 4 percent and the maximum moisture level at 8 percent at the point of export.
Maximum mould and moisture levels were 8 and 12 percent respectively in the 2011/12 season.
Shipments of beans from the bush with moisture levels exceeding 9 percent are to be turned away at the country’s ports, initially sparking worries among exporters that strict enforcement would lead to high rates of rejection.
“I am satisfied to observe that quality is clearly better than we’d hoped, because we received calls from exporters saying they were sceptical about the success of our quality plan in the beginning,” CCC director Massandje Toure said.
“Today the moisture level is between 7 and 8 percent and the beans are well dried and fermented,” she said during a visit to a buyer warehouse in Divo in the heart of the country’s cocoa belt.
The reform, which also set a guaranteed farmgate price of 725 CFA francs per kg of beans, marks the end of more than a decade of sector liberalisation that saw a general decline in quality.
While the reform’s chief aim is to improve farmer incomes and encourage reinvestment in ageing plantations, the CCC also hopes the guaranteed price and new, stricter quality standards will push growers to improve drying and fermentation practices.
Agronomists recommend farmers ferment beans for six days and then dry them for another six days. However exporters say in practice the entire process is now often completed in as little as four days.
Farmers blame the decline in quality in recent years on pressure from middle men.
“All we ask is that the buyers leave us in peace and we will produce good cocoa. But if they keep coming and asking us to sell even when it’s not properly dried, nothing will ever change,” said Fulbert Amani, who farms between Daloa and Vavoua.
Cocoa merchants, who collect the bulk of Ivorian cocoa production from the bush and deliver it to the ports, have already complained that poor roads and bribes at illegal roadblocks are cutting into their profits.
They now say that the new measures to improve quality will slow down buying, meaning it will take longer to collect produce from farms.
“The negative side is that the buying period will last longer than usual. Before, towards the end of January or early February, the main crop was finished. The cocoa was at the ports,” said the director of a European export company.
“But with the time needed to properly prepare the beans, we’ll have to expect that buying will continue into April and May for the main crop,” he said, asking not to be named.
Via Reuters Africa